Social housing provider says it will work with Lichfield and Burntwood residents to help mitigate impact of benefits cap

A social housing provider says it is doing all it can to help residents in Lichfield and Burntwood deal with a new benefits cap.

The Government is planning to lower the amount of benefits a family can claim from £26,000 a year to £20,000 a year.

Figures from Lichfield District Council reveal that 60 families in the region are likely to be affected by the move, in addition to 15 who were limited by the previous threshold.

The changes could see some families unable to afford their rent.

But Bromford executive director Nick Cummins said plans were already in place to try to limit the impact on local residents.

“The benefits landscape is changing significantly and this has presented all social housing providers, including Bromford, with a number of challenges and we are taking proactive steps to face these challenges head on,” he said.

“Over the past three years we have worked intensively with a wide range of customers to mitigate the impact of welfare reform. Our most important work in this regard has been our increasing focus on coaching and supporting a large number of our customers into work as well as the introduction of a new Financial Conduct Authority-compliant money advice service to increase budgeting skills and maximise their income.

“In addition, where we know an existing customer or family is due to be affected by welfare reforms we are contacting them directly to put an action plan in place to support them. We have also been helping customers to lessen the impact of the Bedroom Tax by finding them more suitable homes where necessary.

“We are already taking steps to raise awareness of the introduction and impact of Universal Credit by encouraging customers to build up a financial safety net in their rent account. All new working-age customers are being automatically signed up to direct payments meaning they will be used to paying their rent from the outset.

“Responding to central government cuts to benefit entitlement, we have also introduced an affordability assessment into our lettings policy to ensure customers are best placed to sustain and maximise their tenancies with us. This change, which came into effect this month will be reviewed early next year and will affect both existing and future customers.

“We expect this assessment to find in a minority of cases, where welfare reforms are particularly significant, that a customer may not be able to pay their rent and have enough additional money to live on.

“We are currently exploring some joint funding opportunities with a number of our local authority partners, including Lichfield District Council, to try and overcome this issue. This arrangement will give us some extra time to work with the customer on their prospects of getting back into work and removing their reliance on out-of-work benefits.”

Further welfare reforms will see a reduction in the housing benefit for social housing tenants.

Eligible residents have previously had their rent payment covered, but from April 2018 it will be capped at the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rate.

Lichfield District Council’s figures show that 46 Bromford properties will face a shortfall when the measures are introduced.

But Mr Cummins said the new affordability tests would help mitigate issues further down the line.

“As a responsible landlord we think it is wrong to deliberately let to households who will not be able to afford to pay their rent, or have the means to sustain their tenancy because of the central government cuts to benefit entitlement,” he said.

“We believe this would simply prolong the uncertainty for customers by setting them up to fail as well as calling into question our financial viability as a business.

“However, we are confident that by working positively with our local authority partners we can minimise this impact and continue working closely with customers to maximise their opportunities and realise their aspirations.”

Founder of LichfieldLive and editor of the site.